x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gaultier collection looks to the past

The famous designer revived his famous conical corsets while updating his dungarees.

A model presents a 1980s-style dungarees outfit by French designer Jean Paul Gaultier.
A model presents a 1980s-style dungarees outfit by French designer Jean Paul Gaultier.

So today we understand why it is that the Maison Martin Margiela collection was so much more approachable and less cerebral than in previous seasons: it seems he may not have designed it. After a year of unfulfilled rumours that the reclusive Belgian was retiring from fashion, the brand's owner, Renzo Rosso (also the owner of Diesel and Viktor & Rolf), told the industry forecasting service WGSN that: "Martin has not been there for a long time. He is here but not here. We have a new, fresh design team on board. We are focusing on young, realistic energy for the future, this is really Margiela for the year 2015."

The National's request for clarification from the Maison Martin Margiela press office went unanswered, so the news remains unconfirmed at the moment, but Margiela fanatics are already decrying the collection's commerciality (the most dreaded word in fashion), which they see as a betrayal of the great man's anti-fashion philosophy. Margiela may or may not have left, but it's been a week of debuts, from Peter Copping's first collection at Nina Ricci and Rodolfo Paglialunga's first main presentation at Vionnet, to the anticipation of the first collection from Emanuel Ungaro's interesting new creative team: the young Spanish designer Estrella Archs and - wait for it - Lindsay Lohan, the scandal-courting starlet extraordinaire.

Ungaro is not alone in turning towards a younger look, because while Saturday's shows had their fair share of subtle, elegant and wearably avant-garde looks - step forward Haider Ackermann, he of the silk-soft putty-coloured leather draping - there was also a notably quirky, upbeat feel from several designers. Viktor & Rolf's show was played out to the tune of Roisin Murphy's soon-to-be-released new material, which she sang live from a podium, wearing a giant, frothy, net A-line thing (was it a dress over a black suit or was it sleeves? Who could tell?) that enhanced her already considerable pregnancy bump.

The collection itself was classic Viktor & Rolf: high-concept, contrived and witty, but ultimately very feminine and very pretty. Dresses, trousers, jackets and skirts, executed in the pale bird-egg and sea-foam colours that are defining the season, were covered with tulle ruffs and frills, layered so densely that they seemed to defy gravity and then chopped into graphic, geometric shapes. Crafted shapes and geometric sculpting were also at work at the presentation of the Turkish designer Dice Kayek, at the Ritz. Placed on tailor's dummies, her exquisitely constructed short dresses, based on the domes and dives of Istanbul, were finished to a couture level, something that could only be appreciated in the intimate environs of a showroom. Wise of her to avoid the expense and stress of a catwalk show.

The Cacharel show was another first for the season: Cédric Charlier's debut collection for the brand could easily have picked up on the soft, romantic themes of the moment, but instead he sent out minimalist starchy white cottons, wearable linens and a number of crisp prints. While some of the proportions looked a touch mumsy, there were still plenty of pretty classics to keep the buyers happy. Sophia Kokosolaki also stuck with the pale and interesting approach, teaming gently draped and belted minis and shorts in neutral shades with glossy black silks in a continuation of the lingerie theme that is playing out in Paris.

The king of underwear-as-outerwear is, of course, Jean Paul Gaultier, and for this collection he revived those famous conical corsets as part of an homage to the pop-girl hip-hop of the late 1980s and early 1990s - his catwalk thumped to the sounds of Neneh Cherry and Salt-N-Pepa as models swaggered down the runway wearing their hair in corn rows and frizzed-up side ponytails. Denim and pale satins were given a shot of colour with neon and metallic accessories, including bracelets at the elbow and satin baseball caps perched to the side.

The collection felt young and confident, even if it did call on two-decades-old styles, and while the denim jodhpur dungarees may be best reserved for today's R&B stars (Rihanna certainly seemed to enjoy it from her front-row vantage point), there were plenty of individual pieces to please his long-term fans, such as the pale pink kaftan with vivid blue accessories or the pretty geometric chiffon evening dresses.

Also getting jiggy with a hip-hop vibe was, surprisingly, Loewe. The Spanish label headed up by the British designer Stuart Vevers took a radical leap from its previous moody, formal collections, with a light, sporty Bel Air mood. Super-thin hides in stone and beige were used to make cropped trouser suits and shorts, pepped up with neon detailing such as buttons, piping and sun visors, but the most impressive pieces were the fragile waterjet-cut suede skirts and dresses, which created intricate cut-out patterns floating over acid yellow bases. As Vevers said after the show, "It was a really difficult process - I hadn't even heard of waterjet cutting before - but leather doesn't really lend itself to spring so we had to find a way to make it work." Creative thought in action; let's hope it's not the last breakthrough of this very safe season.